Despite being on French soil, Samuel Sanchez's victory at Luz-Ardiden today satisfied tens of thousands of Basque supporters who crossed the Spanish border to see their hero in action.
The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider didn't disappoint. His ecstatic emotions at his first Tour stage win were the polar opposite to last year when the opportunity to beat Andy Schleck at Morzine-Avoriaz went begging.
"I'm still can't believe I just won a stage of the Tour de France," said the 33-year-old rider, who insisted he wanted to savour victory rather than prepare for an assault on the GC or the king of the mountains jersey which he now holds.
"It was very important for me to win here today in Luz-Ardiden in front of my fans – in fact it's a double value win because of them."
Sanchez escaped with Omega Pharma-Lotto's Jelle Vanendert close to the bottom of the climb. He knew skirmishing among the general classification favourites in the group behind would give the pair leeway.
"It was very important for me to try and attack today," he said. "And it was easier for me to do so because the final was so important for the general classification. I also think it was a good possibility because none of the leaders behind had more than two teammates – it was impossible for them to chase behind for the whole climb. I knew if we could be 30 or 40 seconds ahead in the last kilometres we had a chance."
His fellow escapee, Vanendert, has been very active this Tour. On stage 3 to Mûr de Bretagne, he rode so hard his leader, Philippe Gilbert asked him to drop the pace because he was ‘breaking his legs'.
Today, Sanchez said he had been impressed by Vanendart's performances in the Ardennes Classics. "I knew him from the Flèche-Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He was always the last rider with Philippe Gilbert, doing a really great job. Today there was really a good collaboration between us. When we talked it was only to say that we both wanted to take it to the finish and decide it in the final meters.
When pressed on whether he would try for a high placing in the general classification, Sanchez was coy. "I won't think about the future – I just want to think about today and see how I recover. I want to celebrate my victory with my teammates and my family who are here today. Anything that comes after will be a bonus."
Sanchez's victory comes exactly a decade since a former Euskaltel-Euskadi rider, Roberto Laiseka, won at Luz-Ardiden in 2001.
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Sam started as a trainee reporter on daily newspapers in the UK before moving to South Africa where he contributed to national cycling magazine Ride for three years. After moving back to the UK he joined Procycling as a staff writer in November 2010.
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